I received a rather longer than usual response to the Garbh Choire Refuge page from George Allan, a member of the North East Mountain Trust.
Rather cheekily, he includes a case for removing the refuge, presumably mistaking this for an impartial court. Make no mistake: I’m fully in favour of retaining and repairing the Garbh Choire Refuge.
However here’s his comment below, after which I’ll address the points he raises in the case for removal. I’ve taken the liberty of inserting numbers in his arguments for removal, to make cross reference easier, but otherwise the comment in italics is his own.
Neil Reid and Kenny Freeman are to be commended on their document arguing the case for retention and doing the bothy up.
The committee of the North East Mountain Trust discussed their paper recently, along with one favouring removal written by another committee member. NEMT is in the process of canvassing its members’ views.
The decision on the future of the bothy lies entirely with the National Trust for Scotland which will, presumable, take soundings, and consult the Cairngorm Park Authority before making a decision. There seem to be two options-a] rebuild it pretty well exactly as it is and then maintain it- the option that the Mountain Bothies Assn has an interest in or b] dismantle and, as far as possible, leave no trace of its existance.
There are two other options but no one party to the North East Mountain Trust discussions favoured them. These are, firstly, rebuild making it bigger and secondly leave it to deteriorate.
For the sake of completeness these are the arguments for complete removal: – 1-It is in an area of wild land par excellence. Removal would return this to a pristine state with no evidence of man’s intrusion. These coires really are an exceptional case in the way that Fords of Avon is not.
2-The bothy was built in the 1960s by members of the Lairig Club to facilitate developments in the Braeriach coires. At that time, most climbers went in from the south. It serves this purpose much less now as most go in via various routes from the north. In addition, modern light weight tents have altered the situation.
3– There is an emerging path around it and this is likely to become more obvious if it is retained.
4– The cultural heritage argument is questionable. It could be applied to almost anything which had been touched by man.
5– The safety argument is circular. It could also be used to justify retaining any buildings. For example, Jean’s Hut and the Sinclair hut could have been retained on this basis.
In putting forward the case for removal, I am not saying that I support either this or retention. However, people need to considered all angles.
So here goes. I’ll take his arguments one by one.
1- This really is the strongest argument against retention of the refuge, but George – and several others in other forums – says in this that the Garbh Choire IS an area of wild land par excellence, not “would be if the hut was removed”. Mar Lodge Estate’s own policies recognise that the existence of a man-made structure does not necessarily detract from a feeling of wilderness and can even enhance it. My own feeling is that the Garbh Choire Refuge is a very small structure, with its visible elements mainly native stone, barely even recognisable as man-made from most angles. Even standing right outside the refuge, that area seems pretty damned wild to me, and not a whit diminished.
(Incidentally, by claiming the Fords of Avon not to be an apt comparison he loses me. If you’ve ever walked north past the Dubh Lochain, across the rocks and peatbog south of the River Avon, peering across the river at a barely distinguishable pile of stones, with the wind and rain making you flinch, you’ll find it hard to credit that this area is any less wild or pristine than the Garbh Choire.)
2 – It’s a curious assertion that the refuge no longer serves a function, given the amount of interest roused by its present plight. The argument that it is no longer needed because climbers mostly come from the north these days is even more curious. Does a northern access route mean you have no need of shelter from the elements? In any case, no evidence is presented that this is actually the case. I suspect this argument originated in a comment in the current Cairngorm Climbing Guide referring to winter climbing in the Garbh Choire and suggesting that bicycle access up Gleann Einich made it accessible for a day visit. This may well be true if conditions are right and you are superbly fit, but I doubt if most climbers would consider it a day crag and, whatever the direction of access, most would require some form of accommodation nearer than Glen More, whether that be bothy or tent.
3 – “There is an emerging path…” There is indeed. Almost 50 years since the refuge was first built and it has still failed to emerge in anything more than rudimentary and fragmentary fashion – and most of those years were years when the refuge was allegedly better used and when climbers allegedly came from the south. The fact is that, although people do use it, and may well be more tempted to use it were it weathertight, it is not on any major through route and unlikely ever to see intensive use of the sort that creates scars.
4 – “The cultural heritage is questionable…” This one actually makes me angry. I believe Scotland’s bothy culture is something to be intensely proud of and to safeguard zealously. In this country, at a time when we are seeing daily evidence of greed, capitalism run wild and rampant consumerism, we have another culture: one where volunteers look after a network of bothies, buildings in wild and remote areas, which are expressly open to all, regardless of money, club membership or even passport, where strangers are made welcome and can receive advice and practical help, where people of common purpose (though from all walks of life) can meet informally and on equal terms and enjoy each others society.
Mr Allan (or the originator of this argument – for I understand that George is airing arguments in the interests of fairness rather than necessary conviction) may not feel such a culture exists, but I am fiercely passionate about this: this is MY culture and that of my companions in the hills. We look around and see the National Trust for Scotland with a portfolio heavy with ‘stately homes’ – monuments to the robber barons of yesteryear; we see contemporary X-Factor and Apprentice culture, where people strive for empty celebrity and find pleasure in others’ humiliation. How can anyone then claim that “the cultural heritage argument is questionable”? There is considerable literature in existence which speaks of Scotland’s bothy culture and it can be seen in action in a bothy somewhere every day. There is a limited number of bothies in the highlands: no more are being built yet existing bothies are being lost (Sinclair, Jean’s Hut and others). When do we say enough is enough? My own view is that the National Trust for Scotland should hang its head in blackest shame if, while preserving the ‘culture’ of the rich and powerful, it destroys a manifestation of a culture that is uniquely Scottish and speaks of the very best in human nature. Rant over.
5 – The safety argument. Funnily enough, I actually agree with this one – to a point. You could improve safety by building refuges like this in every glen in the land, but few could justify that (let alone bear the cost). However, while it’s not a sufficient factor on its own, this refuge is already in existence, and the safety dividend it offers is a factor to be considered.
And that’s about it. Apologies to George Allan if I’ve appeared to have a go at him – I understand the arguments were formulated by a third party and that George is presenting them in the interests of balance.
In fact I bear no ill will towards anyone who believes the refuge should be removed on wilderness grounds. It’s a valid argument, even if I don’t agree with it. But don’t let anyone tell you there’s no cultural heritage argument – that is ignorance (willful or otherwise) which must not go unchallenged.